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KDH APPEALS FOR RETURN TO 'TRADITIONAL' VALUES

"Gimme that Ol' Time Religion"

Over the past few weeks, top representatives of the right-wing Christian Democratic Party (KDH) have taken a stand against what they say are "immoral" and "family-degrading" influences on Slovak society. Emboldened by an August 16 treaty approved by the government between the Vatican and the Slovak Republic - a treaty which the KDH demanded the government make a priority - the party has attacked homosexuals, and pledged to combat prostitution and pornography.
The KDH says that its often controversial stances of late are in line with their traditional agenda, an agenda which had been abandoned for the last two years while the KDH was forced to deal with ruling coalition squabbles and the demise of the Slovak Democratic Coalition [SDK], of which they are a member party.


Christian Democrat leader Ján Čarnogurský is appealing to conservative and nationalist voter sentiment in an attempt to rebuild his party's support.
photo: TASR

Over the past few weeks, top representatives of the right-wing Christian Democratic Party (KDH) have taken a stand against what they say are "immoral" and "family-degrading" influences on Slovak society. Emboldened by an August 16 treaty approved by the government between the Vatican and the Slovak Republic - a treaty which the KDH demanded the government make a priority - the party has attacked homosexuals, and pledged to combat prostitution and pornography.

The KDH says that its often controversial stances of late are in line with their traditional agenda, an agenda which had been abandoned for the last two years while the KDH was forced to deal with ruling coalition squabbles and the demise of the Slovak Democratic Coalition [SDK], of which they are a member party.

Analysts, however, said the party was trying to increase its voter support - which currently stands at around 5%, down from 13% before the 1998 elections - by preaching conservative and populist ideals.

"It's only two years until the next elections," said Ľuboš Kubín, a political analyst with the Slovak Academy of Sciences. "It's only natural that now that the SDK has collapsed, its individual member parties are trying to define themselves anew for the public."

But few believe the KDH have taken the right approach to rebuilding voter support and political identity. Ján Bunčák, a sociologist at Bratislava's Comenius University, said that although the KDH were trying to appeal to what they saw as the country's deep-rooted belief in traditional, Catholic values, they were misreading the population, which was actually far less religious than it appeared.

"According to statistics, about 60% of Slovaks claim the Catholic faith, so when politicians sees that high a figure, they want to appeal to that group," Bunčák said. "But politicians are often naive. Whatever the figures say, perhaps only 30% of people are devout church-going types. The situation in Slovakia is actually very dynamic."

Popular reactions appear to support Bunčák's theory. With the country facing several burning racial and economic problems, some citizens are wondering whether the KDH has its priorities straight.

"I don't think homosexuals are any worse or less moral than any other Slovak," said 25-year old Ivona Halimovičová of central Slovakia's Brezno. "I have to say I don't understand why the KDH thinks that this is the most important thing to be solved today. They should care more about the catastrophic state of the educational system or healthcare, for example. There are so many other things that need to be fixed."

That voters like Halimovičová are befuddled by the KDH's recently strong opinions is bad news for the party; KDH representatives themselves said that they were targeting voters in small towns similar to Brezno. Analysts said that the KDH was focusing on these voters because urban-dwelling university-educated citizens were rejecting the party's strictly conservative agenda, instead favouring that of the more liberal Slovak Democratic Christian Union (SDKÚ), led by Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda.

"The KDH voter profile is similiar to that of the [opposition] Movement for a Democratic Slovakia [led by former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar]," Kubín said, explaining that such voters tended to be older residents of small towns. "They [the KDH] are losing the modern and the urban voter to the more liberal SDKÚ, and are therefore trying to appeal to those who are more isolationist in their views concerning minorities and what they call 'abnormal trends' in society."

Grigorij Mesežnikov, head of the Institute for Public Affairs think tank in Bratislava, agreed, but added that KDH voters had traditionally tended to be more educated than HZDS supporters.

But Ján Čarnogurský, Slovak Justice Minister and KDH head, told The Slovak Spectator on September 5 that voter support had little to do with his party's politics. The party's latest appeals - that homosexual 'partnerships' not be given rights equal to heterosexual marriages, that city streets be freed of prostitutes, that pornography be kept below newsstand counters, and that Internet pornography be controlled - represented a simple return to the KDH's political roots.

"Family and respect for moral values connected to the basic social unit have always been the KDH's priorities," he said.

Čarnogurský's party mates echoed their leader, saying that they were returning to their core values, but added that they also expected to gain voters in the process.

"I'm sure that by presenting our clear positions on these topics we will gradually not only regain our lost voters, but also appeal to other groups," said KDH member Pavol Hrušovský, who has been given Čarnogurský's blessing as the party's next leader at a congress this fall. Čarnogurský has said that one of the new groups targeted would be the working class.

The KDH's Peter Muránsky added: "Only clear, unambiguous parties can be successful, not those who talk about everything and anything. We want to preserve traditional conservative principles and we want to protect our citizens from decadent social trends like prostitution, homosexual behaviour and the extensive availability of pornography."

This party line, for Mesežnikov, means the KDH is hoping to woo nationalist voters as well, such as many of those who support Mečiar's HZDS. He again drew a distinction, however, between the KDH and the HZDS, by saying that the HZDS was more "authoritarian" in its governing style.

"Although there are similarities between the two parties, the KDH is more aware of its limited power. They just aim to strengthen conservative politics in the Slovak government," said Mesežnikov.

The Christian Democrats, for their part, said that they were confident voters would respond favourably to their new - and old - political agenda.

"Slovak citizens don't want homosexuals to be placed on an equal level with the traditional family, and they are against moral evils like prostitution and pornography," said Muránsky. "I'm optimistic, it's just a matter of time until those [former KDH supporters] who left for the liberal SDKÚ will return to us, and to their own principal beliefs."

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